‘Why do you seem incapable of picking up the towel after your shower?’ I bend down and grab a damp towel from the floor of our bathroom, wincing as a pain shoots up my spine. I feel angry. I bunch up the towel and fling it across the landing, feeling tears spring in my eyes. This is stupid I tell myself, frantically running the back of my hand across my face. It’s just a towel. …..even if you spent all of your day off meticulously cleaning the entire house. I’m tired. I’m tired and sore from a long day at work and I don’t want to be picking up towels for other people.
My boyfriend doesn’t respond. He is in his office, working hard on his doctoral thesis and probably tutting at my nagging. He is tired too. I notice that his clothes are strewn across the landing and I feel like screaming. My mind goes back ten years, to our first night living together.
We had just come from the Irish version of prom. We were moving into a small house in Cork city, with two other people, to attend university together. We lay on a tiny single bed, in a grotty room, giddy and in love. We had looked forward to this moment for two years. We had lived hundreds of kilometres apart and now, finally, we would never be apart again. My head lay on his chest, and I listened to his heart beat. It was slow. He played with my hair.
‘I love you.’
‘I love you too.’
It felt simple. It was simple.
‘What do you think this will be like?’ he asked.
‘Perfect,’ I answered, without needing to think about it. ‘It will be perfect.’
And for a while, it came pretty close. Even though we had separate rooms, we couldn’t stand spending a night apart. We went to college and we watched TV with our roommates in the evening. We were young and in love and that seemed to be enough.
After a year, we moved to a different house, alone for the first time in our lives. Like any couple, we argued. We argued about who’s turn it was to do the dishes, who should make dinner and whether to turn the heating on or not (I get cold easily, Jack does not). Sometimes these arguments descended into bitter fighting. Although we have never once in our twelve years together gone to sleep while still arguing, we have had some terrible verbal fights that neither of us are proud of.
After living together for a few years, I felt disillusioned. This hadn’t been part of the plan. When did Belle or Snow White have to worry about rent or bills or whether their other halves picked up their underwear off the floor? Of course I knew that life isn’t a fairytale, but I didn’t realise just how monotonous and frustrating living with the supposed love of your life could become. And I hated myself for feeling like that. I knew I loved Jack. I knew someday I wanted to marry him. I also knew that not living with him would feel infinitely worse for me. But knowing all of this didn’t stop the arguments.
And we still argue. We still argue over the dishes, the dinner, the heating. Jack leaves his clothes and towels strewn about and I inevitably end up picking them up for him. I leave food lying about in the kitchen and he ends up putting it back in the cupboards. Some days, we get angry and frustrated with one another and we talk it out. We’ve become much better at communicating with one another without the need for pettiness or passive aggressiveness. I’ve come to accept that this is what a real relationship is like. Most days, we are wonderful together. We laugh, we give each other space, we are affectionate and considerate. Some days we argue. Some days, we are selfish and irritable. I’ve learned that this is normal. We argue because we care. When we stop arguing, we stop caring.
Living with someone is tough. That’s something you don’t learn from Disney movies or romance novels. You are allowing someone to see you in a way that nobody outside your immediate family ever really has. I have flaws; I can be demanding, I’m overly-sensitive and I’m needy. I can also be ridiculously irrational. *cough* Like when we fight and I tell him to get out and then two second later, I’m all:
Jack has seen and dealt with these unattractive qualities first-hand. He has been patient, loving and kind to me. Although we’re not perfect, we seem to be right for each other. We fit. I would take a million arguments if it means that I’m lucky enough to have found the right person. It’s not always a bed of roses, but when it is, it makes everything else worthwhile:
So living with Jack has been challenging. There are some days where I honestly have wanted to scream at him until I’m hoarse. Then there are days when I’ve come home from work, dejected and stressed, and all that I’ve needed is a cuddle and a cup of tea. I don’t even need to ask and Jack will fetch me a blanket and a hot water bottle and order me to lie on the sofa. We have our challenges, but we face them together. We haven’t idealised the future; we know that it will be tough at times. We will have to work together and to make compromises. We will fight, and we will hurt each other, but we will always come back and say we’re sorry.
This post has been partly inspired by one of my favourite poems by the wonderful Adrienne Rich called Living in Sin. The poem deals with the reality of living with a partner, as opposed to the idealised version we are often presented with in fiction. Have a read:
She had thought the studio would keep itself;
no dust upon the furniture of love.
Half heresy, to wish the taps less vocal,
the panes relieved of grime. A plate of pears,
a piano with a Persian shawl, a cat
stalking the picturesque amusing mouse
had risen at his urging.
Not that at five each separate stair would writhe
under the milkman’s tramp; that morning light
so coldly would delineate the scraps
of last night’s cheese and three sepulchral bottles;
that on the kitchen shelf among the saucers
a pair of beetle-eyes would fix her own—
envoy from some village in the moldings . . .
Meanwhile, he, with a yawn,
sounded a dozen notes upon the keyboard,
declared it out of tune, shrugged at the mirror,
rubbed at his beard, went out for cigarettes;
while she, jeered by the minor demons,
pulled back the sheets and made the bed and found
a towel to dust the table-top,
and let the coffee-pot boil over on the stove.
By evening she was back in love again,
though not so wholly but throughout the night
she woke sometimes to feel the daylight coming
like a relentless milkman up the stairs.
If anyone has some tips on how not to murder your partner, leave them in the comments!